L.A.I.R. Review - 18/09/2007

Finally comes one of the must haves of 2007 for Playstation 3 owners, Factor 5's dragon-flying game, L.A.I.R. The game has been heralded by Sony as a high profile title since the launch of the Playstation 3 back in November. But is this game really something to marvel at or is it Sony getting it all wrong?

Upon booting the game there are some differences to the norm, instead of an intro movie playing it jumps straight to the main menu DVD-style. Here are some of the normal options: start game, options set-up. L.A.I.R takes the DVD-style a bit further with an Extras option, also giving it an old school feel. This option gives you some interesting added treats, such as a cheats menu, along with a chance to listen to all of the music available in the game. Finally, in the menu comes the L.A.I.R network opening up the world to your dragon fighting power.

The first thing that strikes you as you start the game is the opening FMV scene which, quite simply, looks gorgeous. The landscape is the first thing that you see having a feel to it as though it is straight from a movie. Coming over the mountains, you see a city nestled within the mountains. Each building looks equally extraordinary, with detail in every stone brick, seeming to have been taken from an original building. Finally you are taken into the central, and most majestic building, where we meet your character, Rohn, more about him later, but the characters are the main interest here. They have some of the most remarkable facial construction that I have seen the Playstation 3 produce; looking like something that you might see in a DreamWorks' film.

The first mission follows straight on from this FMV, a small section of it introduces you to the skills that you will need to control your dragon. This is possibly the poorest part of the game, the tutorial is sadly lacking in any content other than use of the SIXAXIS. Although you have a training ground that you can access after the first mission to increase your skills, it would have been nice to have a small helping hand especially as you're not told how to lock on until almost the end of the mission. This makes it very hard to attack some enemies. Tutorial aside, the controls can be a little hard to master as I was finding myself, speeding forward, instead of looping back on myself, much of the time. But the basic movements of flight are responsive, depending on how the controller is set, and after a few missions begin to feel much more natural. Moving the SIXAXIS to the right and left makes your dragon veer each way and pulling back on the controller causes the dragon to fly skywards; tilting the controller down sends the dragon towards the ground; finally pressing the X tells your dragon to increase its speed and pressing either L2 or R2 will trigger your dragon to brake, while holding both buttons, if in flight, will start it hovering or if close to the ground will bring about a landing.

Combat controls are similarly simple, pressing and holding square causes a continuous flamethrower attack; while single presses produce small fireballs. Pressing circle whilst in target lock will cause your dragon to pursue an enemy and physically attack it. Also if target lock is on a building or ground unit then you can rip and tear some enemies from saddles or objects off buildings, again by pressing the circle button then, when your dragon has reached the target, a few shakes up and down of the controller gradually pulls the prey apart.

There are a few problems, at times, with the gameplay, which is mainly hampered by the controls. The flight after a while does feel much better but at the start you do spend a fair amount of time avoiding cliffs or buildings at the last moment. This is mainly due to the fact that much of the game is based in large closed in areas, like valleys and surfaces of lakes - that tiny detail means you cannot make sharp turns (which, in fairness, I doubt a dragon could do), but this makes it impossible to keep up the assault on a target as they are soon underneath your dragon and unfortunately the camera stays on them and loses your character. You can flip 180 degrees, but having to pull the controller as hard as you do towards you, means that you don't manage it and just soar upwards. The good sections are few but when they are good they are truly so, at times, if engaging stronger dragons, you can start a one-on-one fight mid-air which does work well with buttons assigned to different actions, like claw and flame. Also there is the rip and tear attack, which works better than most of the SIXAXIS controlled features with a few shakes of the controlled up and down you, can manage to tear men from their saddles or destroy parts of buildings.

The story revolves around two cultures, the Asylian and the Mokai, who once were one people, The Ancients, however a terrible natural disaster befell the land in which the Ancients lived and volcanoes awoke. The reason behind the disaster and activation of the volcanoes could not be explained by any of the world scientists, so rival schools of orthodoxy formed, slicing the civilization in half. After centuries the Asylians are attacked by the Mokai, and this is where Rohn enters. Rohn is a soldier in the Sky Guard, who are a group of Asylian soldiers trained to fight both on foot and atop mighty dragons.

This game is clever, but not well thought out. Unfortunately its problems do tip the scales. But the biggest problem, the controls, can be dealt with by persistence and practice. If you do overlook them, the game works out very well in respect to an action game with some amazing graphics. Also there is plenty of replay value with medals to be collected, which unlocks new moves or bonus content.

- Alec Hilton



Factor 5